In Rome’s Via della Scrofa, not far from the seat of parliament in the historic center, a stone tablet and a dried up wreath commemorate Alberto Marchesi, an anti-fascist resistance fighter executed by the German SS in the Adreatine Caves in 1944. The plaque hangs to the left of a wide archway opening up on the yellow building.
In a jarring juxtaposition, a much smaller Plexiglas plaque to the right of the entrance indicates this is the headquarters of the neo-fascist Fratelli d’Italia party.
Neo-fascist parties have resided at Via della Scrofa 39 since 1946 — the MSI movement, the National Alliance, and now the Brothers of Italy, named after the first verse of the Italian national anthem. Party leader Giorgia Meloni made a point of keeping the office in the historic building which was once frequented by followers of former fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
Meloni says she has an unbroken relationship with history. Dictator Mussolini was “a complex personality,” she has said in interviews. Even today, many Italians think not everything was bad under Mussolini.
Ambigious about past
Meloni does not clearly distance herself from fascism. In her autobiography, she writes she is aware she is navigating a political minefield. “We are children of our history. Of our whole history. As is the case with all other nations, the path we have traveled is complex, much more complicated than many want to make known.”
Giorgia Meloni’s party currently tops the polls ahead of the September election in Italy
She does, however, reject the cult of the leader common to fascism, she writes. But when Giorgia Meloni holds press conferences at the party headquarters, a fascist symbol is always in plain view — the logo of the Brothers of Italy.
It’s a stylized flame in the Italian national colors, an eternal flame that burns figuratively at Mussolini’s grave. “I have nothing to apologize for in my life. But in two out of three television discussions, I’m supposed to talk about history and not about current politics. I don’t think that’s right.”
No Roman salute
Last fall, in preparation for the election campaign leading up to the vote on September 25, Giorgia Meloni sent out internal memos to party groups instructing them to stop making extreme statements, to refrain from making references to fascism and, above all, to refrain from the so-called Roman salute, a gesture with an outstretched right arm which resembles the Hitler or Nazi salute.
The politician who might soon be prime minister wants to move the party from the political fringes, from the extreme right to center right. Meloni is seeking to remould the party and pitch it as a conservative champion of patriotism that appeals to the middle class to form a coalition with other right-wing parties — Matteo Salvini’s Lega and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
Drop the Roman salute, Meloni has been telling party members
“If she has made it this far in Italy, it’s thanks to all those who have whitewashed her — from the media who insist on calling Salvini and Meloni center-right to Berlusconi and the Grillini, who brought her to power, and a disoriented center-left that underestimated and legitimized her,” says Alba Sidera, a Spanish journalist who has for years researched the Italian far right. “Meloni did not suddenly appear out of nowhere. She has been preparing to become prime minister for years.”
Born in 1977, Giorgia Meloni joined the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) party’s youth wing when she was 15 to take a stance against the far-left terror of the era in Italy. She later led the student branch of the far-right National Alliance, was elected to the Italian Parliament’s Chamber of Deputies in 2006, and became Italy’s youngest minister two years later.
At the age of 31, she took over the youth portfolio in Silvio Berlusconi’s government. Ten years ago, Giorgia Meloni founded the Brothers of Italy, which she has led since 2014. In 2020, she also took over the chairmanship of the EuropeanConservatives and Reformists (ECR) party, which includes, among others, the Polish ruling party, PiS.
Her party’s logo is unmistakeable
Meloni plans to head into the election campaign with the populist slogan “Italy and Italian people first!” She has called for more family-friendly benefits, less European bureaucracy, low taxes, and a halt to immigration.
She wants to renegotiate EU treaties and Italy’s membership in the euro currency community. Her party rejects abortions and same-sex marriage. In terms of economic and foreign policy, the trained foreign language secretary is relatively inexperienced. She’s spent most of her political career as a member of parliament and a party official.
Meloni has kept her cool amid harsh criticism from the left-wing political camp. Ginevra Bompani, a writer, told La7 television that “Meloni is a real jerk…. she is surrounded by Nazis.” To which Meloni replied on Facebook that she was tired of being portrayed as “the black lady.”
Her opponents, she said, are only desperate because she is so successful. Associating her with Mussolini, Hitler or Putin is ridiculous, she said. “After all, I support Ukraine,” the party leader said. In a TV interview, she told her critics to take a look at France and Germany, where far-right populist parties have been successful and no one turned that into a scandal. “Why should it be any different in Italy?” The German party Meloni referred to is the Alternative for Germany party (AfD), which however lost votes in the 2021 federal election, and hovered at just over 10% of the vote.
In younger days — if she wins, Meloni plans a coalition government that would include Silvio Berlusconi’s party
The Brothers of Italy leader is counting on Italian leadership to transform the EU into a loose economic union. French President Emmanuel Macron has been weakened by losing his majority in parliament, she said. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is not confident, Meloni said in a recent interview with Italian public broadcaster RAI, adding Scholz certainly does not have the same strength as predecessor Angela Merkel had.
That is precisely where she would come in, says Meloni, who is paying close attention to her new, serious makeover.
This article was originally written in German.